Mick Fanning. Image: WSL / Matt Dunbar


Mick Fanning does not need an introduction, especially not in the world of action sports. The well documented life of the 3 times world surfing champion has ensured his story not only transcends the worlds nations, but has captured the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life.

Mick is not only a champion athlete, he’s also a champion person and savvy businessman and he embodies the tenacious characteristics of the human spirit that so many are inspired by.

So what can your business learn from this elite athlete?


Mick was the first professional surfer to really embrace cross training as a way to improve his performance. After a serious injury in 2004 Mick spent months in rehab, building up his core strength, balance and endurance. He arrived at events as the most prepared athlete; physically, mentally and practically and in many ways lead a revolution in approach for professional surfers. 3 World titles later, Mick is one of the most feared and respected competitors on the world tour.

We can never underestimate the power of preparation in business. The old adage of ‘measure twice, cut once’ rings very true. Good preparation help eliminates surprises and will put your business in the best position to succeed.

There will always be curve balls in business, as there are in sport, but the best prepared are more often the ones who navigate these the best, and have the edge over the competition.


Mick is the perfect case study for using adversity as motivation. With every blow he has taken, he has had the ability to channel his emotions and situation to take his performance to another level. This doesn’t mean Mick is a cold, calculated machine, it just means he has the unique ability to reconcile all he is feeling and use it as a motivator rather than letting it bring him down.

In many markets, the economic climate is challenging and businesses are faced with adversity daily. They key is to focus on the things you can change in your own business, and not spend too much time thinking about the external factors you have no control of. See adversity as opportunities to motivate your staff to rise above the immediate situation and go back to what you know you do well. Gather your thoughts, review your strategies, take a deep breath and jump back in.

Challenges are inevitable in business; its how you approach them that will set you apart from your competitors.


When I think of Mick, I think of those weighted blow up boxing dolls. The ones you punch and kick as hard as you can, and no matter how many times you do it – It keeps bouncing back at you.

Resilience is something you build up; it reveals the scars of experience and thickens your skin in the process. And if you are a quick learner, it will become a huge asset to you and your business. But, in order to get resilience to work for you, you need to know exactly who you are, what you stand for as a business and where you are going. That way, no matter how many times you get knocked down, every time you get back up – you are facing in the right direction again.

Know your strategy, be confident in it and use adversity as a learning experience.

Eye of the tiger. Image: WSL / Kelly Cestari



If you’ve ever seen Mick Fanning go through his pre-heat ritual, you’ll know that you don’t want to be looking him in the eye. He closes off to the rest of the word, put’s his headphones on and almost looks like a heavyweight boxer preparing for a fight.

Mick is intense leading up to his heats. It’s what works for him. It’s his game plan. Music is key for him and he uses it as a way to focus his thoughts. He has a routine that allows him to zero in on the job at hand. A process that mentally prepares him so he can perform at his best.

In business there are many distractions, on a micro level (e-mails, phone calls, meetings, checking your social media feeds 😉 etc.), and then on a macro level; things like the economy, competitor activity, political environment and the various industry ebbs & flows your business will face.

I’m not saying you need to pipe the soundtrack to Rocky V through the office building, although some days that might just be the ‘pattern interrupt’ your business needs – but eliminating (or minimising) distractions and focusing on the tangibles is the key to performing well.

Have clear outcomes and a clear vision for you business – and keep your focus on these.


Eliminating distractions. Image: WSL / Steve Sherman


Athletes who perform at an elite level know how to not only absorb pressure, but they learn how to use it to enhance their performance. Mick is a prime example of someone who has learned to do this year after year. There are too many examples to recount over his career here, but perhaps the best example happened in 2013 in Hawaii during one of Micks world title campaigns.

In a pivotal Round 5 heat, Mick had to win against CJ Hobgood at Pipeline, renowned as one of the worlds best tube riders. Mick was against the ropes with his world title campaign looking all but lost. With only seconds remaining Mick needed a big score to advance and keep his title hopes alive. Under extreme pressure with the clock winding down Mick rolled into one of the waves of the day, held his composure and produced the score he needed to advance. He repeated the feat in the Quarter finals against compatriot Yaden Nicol, this time needing a near perfect score to in the dying moments to not only advance, but to secure the world title. And secure it he did, with a near perfect 9.70 (out of 10) right on the buzzer. Mick said after the heat: “I knew what I needed to do and if the opportunity came, I knew I could do it.”

Confidence in your own ability (and business) is vital when it comes to dealing with pressure.

The stress can either drive you, or drown you. And oftentimes we don’t know how we will react until it happens. Will you stay and fight, or turn on your heels and take flight? Champion businesses and brands are those who absorb the pressure longer, but don’t let it weigh them down.

They keep their eye on the podium, trust their instincts, hold their course and most importantly learn from their mistakes.


Not every heat, event or world title campaign goes smoothly, not even for Mick Fanning.

On many occasions throughout his career, Mick found himself needing a score late in the heat, fighting it out in elimination rounds or sitting in an uncomfortable position on the ratings.

A lot of the time in sport and business, events transpire that you don’t foresee happening. This can throw a campaign, strategy or business plan out the window before you even begin. Elite athletes and successful brands both have the ability to improvise on the run. There will be times when you need to re-set the plan and start again, and that’s ok.

Be flexible and adaptable in your thought processes. The ability to make change on the run will keep you within striking distance.


Maybe a lesser-known fact about the 3-x world champion – He is extremely generous. And without blowing the cover off Mick’s philanthropic side (Yes, he is very humble too), he has supported many individuals, charities and groups that are close to his heart, both in time and financially.

While not every business has to have a philanthropic arm, there is something to the idea of giving back or supporting something that dovetails well with the values of your business.

My father always taught me to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. And I think the same is true in business. Throw in a little generosity and you’ll definitely sleep well at night.

#thebusinessofsurf #distributorofknowledge

Feature image by WSL / Ed Sloane.


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